Since bursting onto the scene with his trademark chuckle and gross-out humour, Seth Rogen has become a household name in the vulgar comedy scene. With films like Superbad, Knocked Up and Sausage Party under his belt, it’s difficult to think of him without his distinctive stoner humour and sex jokes. His latest starring role in Brandon Trost’s An American Pickle is a far cry from his typical output – and the result is his best film yet.
Written by Simon Rich adapted from his 2013 short story “Sell Out”, An American Pickle can certainly claim the title of the most unique premise in 2020 cinema so far. Seth Rogen stars as Herschel, a struggling Ashkenazi labourer who emigrates to America with his wife in 1920. When a freak accident causes him to fall into a vat of pickles at his factory job, he is brined for 100 years and wakes up perfectly preserved in 2020 Brooklyn. What follows begins as a fish-out-of-water comedy as he attempts to fit in with the assistance of his last remaining descendent Ben (also played by Rogen), but quickly turns into something surprisingly intelligent and thought-provoking.
After a few tongue-in-cheek and self-aware lines of dialogue early on that allude to the bizarre premise of the film, the film’s logic and concept are presented pretty straight-faced thereafter. The jokes come through Herschel’s lack of understanding of modern culture, rather than the ridiculous narrative of somebody being brined with pickles for 100 years. The film quickly morphs into something more intelligent and satirical than it appears on the surface, as Herschel becomes a viral sensation when his authentic artisanal pickles that he brines with salt and rainwater become legendary in Brooklyn. As his status rises, he becomes an outspoken political commentator with his dated 1920s views on women and religion, taking to Twitter and television to share his offensive opinions. The film becomes something of a study on cancel culture as well as holding a mirror up to the modern world’s fixation with these viral figures and social media.
But the main thing that stands An American Pickle out from Seth Rogen’s other filmography – other than the lack of vulgar humour – is how much heart and soul it has. The sweet relationship between Rogen’s two leading characters and the messages of family and legacy are surprisingly touching, resulting in a film that, between the ridiculous premise and fish-out-of-water gags, is incredibly moving. Rogen proves himself capable of handling comedy and drama with equal aplomb, and the result is his finest performance(s) to date.
Funny, touching and wholly original, An American Pickle is Seth Rogen’s best film yet.